There have been many lessons from the past 18 months – many of them learned the hard way – but one of the things we’ve come to understand is a successful outcome heavily relies on having a shared goal, uniting people behind it and moving forward together. Things are more difficult, and success more elusive, if different parts of the one organisation, business, industry, community or even nation, have competing interests and goals, potentially muddying the messaging and slowing the overall take-up of what you’re trying to implement.
For agriculture, it has never been a more critical time to come together in the pursuit of common goals and a shared vision, as the industry faces a raft of domestic and global issues that must be addressed and harnessed as opportunities rather than become problems with potentially damaging outcomes. The Federal Government’s response to emissions reduction and the expectations of overseas markets; the ongoing recovery both here and abroad from the pandemic; trade challenges and the increasing complexity around establishing free trade agreements; a changing climate and the impact on weather events; transport issues around commodity exports; evolving consumer expectations … the list goes on.
But it’s not all bad news if the industry, through its leaders, take a ‘big picture’ approach to what’s good for the industry as a whole, rather than just what’s good for individual sectors, or individual parts of the overall supply chain. And this is something that’s important to acknowledge – agriculture is a big and complex beast. It’s not just farmers, it’s also suppliers and service providers, processors, small businesses and the communities in which they operate; paddock to plate as the expression goes. So, when we consider the structure and workability of this ‘big picture’ strategy, it must address the needs of all agriculture sector participants.
There’s no doubt certain sectors of the industry have done a great job of ‘selling’ themselves to consumers, with many key takeaways when it comes to a whole-of-industry approach. But one thing that does stand out when we look at the success of certain sectors is the strength of leadership and the abilities of those leaders to unite individual stakeholders and have them ‘singing the same tune’ for the benefit of all. These individuals show a willingness to listen to new ideas, acknowledge there are always improvements that can be made in the way they engage and operate, and they can communicate the vision they have for the future. Effective leaders can successfully articulate how their decisions relate to the shared strategy, and successfully communicate it to their internal and external stakeholders. While not all parties will agree with the reasoning they can at least appreciate how the decision was made.
As such a diverse industry, if we follow an adversarial model where the interests of one compete with those of another, we will not, and cannot, move forward. Leaders with an appreciation for this shared vision, and who not only don’t shy away from big ideas, but actively encourage innovative and even provocative thinking, are what we need right now. The long-term strategic issues are those that will make the biggest difference to the future of Australian agriculture, and it will need influential and proactive leadership to change the conversation from competition between sectors, to one that acknowledges how much more can be achieved by working together.
For a more detailed look at this issue, please see Australian Farm Institute’s Spring Quarter edition of its Farm Policy Journal featuring Robbie’s story, ‘Putting a shared and united vision for Australian agriculture at the centre of advocacy models’.